Women's Candidates: A sixth win for Goryachkina!

by Antonio Pereira
6/11/2019 – Aleksandra Goryachkina has won six games and drawn three at the 2019 Women's Candidates Tournament in Kazan. In round nine, she defeated Valentina Gunina for a second time in the event, thus getting 2½-point lead over second place with five rounds to go. Anna and Mariya Muzychuk also won and now share third place with 4½ out of 9 points. Kateryna Lagno is still in sole second place, after saving a draw against Alexandra Kosteniuk. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

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Not an open event

Getting an undefeated '+6' score over nine rounds seems like the kind of performance that would get first place at a typical open event — and that is precisely Aleksandra Goryachkina's score at the Women's Candidates Tournament, an event that features eight players from the Top-11 in the women's ratings list! She is now 2½ points ahead of Kateryna Lagno, with five rounds to go. It would really be a shocker if, by Sunday, she does not get the ticket to challenge Ju Wenjun.

Results of Round 9


Both Muzychuk sisters also won in round nine, which has propelled them to shared third place on a 50% score. Coincidentally, the Ukrainians started the tournament with two losses in the first four rounds and have bounced back getting wins in parallel. Talk about symmetry — both Anna and Mariya won in rounds six and nine!

FIDE Women's Candidates 2019

Round nine is about to kick off | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Gunina 0:1 Goryachkina: Chasing an uncastled king

Aleksandra played a line of the Caro-Kann rarely seen in the elite, with the players following a 2018 game that faced Samvel Ter-Sahakyan and Nils Grandelius (not the most orthodox player in the world) until round eight. Valentina Gunina did not shy away from trying to prove Black's approach was wrong by advancing her f and g-pawns. This strategy created holes on White's position, naturally, and, when Aleksandra used one of these holes to infiltrate the opposite camp, Valentina further weakened her king's position:


White escaped the check with 17.d1, placing her king on an open file — better tries were 17.♔f1 or 17.♕f2. The computers were screaming for 17...0-0-0, when both Black's rooks could have eventually joined the attack. However, Goryachkina opted for 17...d8, which does not give away her advantage but is not as effective.

Black kept putting pressure, while White tried to create complications against Black's uncastled king. When all of Gunina's threats were under control, though, Goryachkina went on to gain material and slowly corner the opposite king. In the final position, Gunina's king — on c6! — is totally defenceless:


Valentina Gunina

Valentina Gunina is on 3½ out of 9 | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Post-game interview with Aleksandra Goryachkina

Dzagnidze 0:1 A. Muzychuk: An exchange up

Georgian number one Nana Dzagnidze was the sole leader in Kazan after winning three games in a row between rounds two and four. Since then, however, Nana has lost four out of the last five, which has left her in sole fifth place. Her fight-at-all-costs strategy has backfired...but that same determination might help her bounce back and end the tournament on a high. Against Anna Muzychuk, she allowed her opponent to gain an exchange in a sharp middlegame:


White is already a pawn down but has the initiative with her rook on the seventh rank and a safer king. Here, Nana could have pulled back with 21.♖g5, but chose 21.f7 instead, giving up the exchange after 21...g6.

Muzychuk consolidated her material advantage and neutralized White's attacking tries. Dzagnidze fought for dear life in an endgame with two rooks v rook and knight, but Anna had no issues keeping control, until getting a 64-move win. In the final position, Black's h-pawn is about to become a queen.


Anna Muzychuk

Anna Muzychuk kept things under control and took the full point | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Game analysis by Anna Muzychuk and Evgeny Miroshnichenko

M. Muzychuk 1:0 Tan Zhongyi: A slow invasion

Tan Zhongyi started the tournament calmly, with three draws and a win, but from that point on she has lost four out of the last five encounters. On the other hand, Mariya Muzychuk has bounced back from a slow start and is now on 50%. The Ukrainian got the upper hand with White out of a Ruy Lopez, but only got the full point after her opponent allowed her to infiltrate her position when the time control was dangerously approaching:


The Chinese could have prevented White from playing 38.e5 by going 37...♞d7 in the previous move, but now that the white rook is threatening the d5-pawn she needs to take her rook back to d8, passively defending the central weakness. This waste of tempi also allowed White to push his g-pawn down the board and take her bishop to f5, getting a dominating setup:


After 40...d6 41.e8, White patiently played 42.e6 and 43.f7 in the next two moves, forcing Tan's resignation, but had the Chinese gone 40...♚g8, for example, White could have walked her king to the centre, taking advantage of Black's completely blocked piece configuration. 

Mariya Muzychuk

Former women's world champion Mariya Muzychuk | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Kosteniuk ½:½ Lagno: A Pirc gone wrong

Trying to take advantage of Alexandra Kosteniuk's bad form in the last few rounds, Kateryna Lagno tried the Pirc Defence with Black, looking for winning chances in order to close the gap with Goryachkina. The plan backfired, though, as only White got chances and Kateryna had to defend all throughout the game. Kosteniuk missed many chances to make the most of her positional edge — for example, on move 61:


Instead of 61.c2+, which was followed by a series of exchanges on the c-file, Kosteniuk could have opted for the more forcing 61.♗c5, going for Black's e-pawn and getting a strong passer in the centre. After the text, White kept trying to push her b-pawn down the board, but Black created a blockade and the draw was eventually signed after 73 moves.

Alexandra Kosteniuk, Kateryna Lagno

Alexandra Kosteniuk and Kateryna Lagno in good spirits | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Post-game interview with Kateryna Lagno and Alexandra Kosteniuk

Standings after Round 9


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Commentary provided by GM Evgeny Miroshnichenko and IM Elisabeth Paehtz

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Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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